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Mandela Washington Fellows: Week Four Reflection

Unbelievable, yet it has been four weeks since an amazing group of Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in the city of Manhattan, Kansas for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), hosted by the Staley School of Leadership at Kansas State University. This remarkable group of young African leaders are here for a six-week Civic Leadership Institute. Throughout the course of the Institute, the Staley School will facilitate opportunities for cultural exchange and leadership development to advance the work of each Fellow by growing their capacity to lead change upon return to their home countries.

The Mandela Fellows do the “Wildcat” hand sign with Ed O’Malley and staff from the Kansas Leadership Center.

Last week, the Fellows dove into module four of the Civic Leadership Institute. In this module, the Fellows had the occasion to learn how Adaptive Leadership and associated concepts can help make sense of systems and design interventions into those systems to create change. To reach the pinnacle of this theme, the Fellows completed a three day “You. Lead. Now” workshop hosted by the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita. The “You. Lead. Now” workshop is a program designed to connect leaders from all sectors and levels of authority with common aspiration to move forward on what they care about the most. During the workshop, the Fellows had the opportunity to access knowledge that can be used to help effectively diagnose situations, manage themselves, intervene skillfully, and energize others. They also got a chance to receive feedback and support from highly trained teachers and coaches. As Stephen Richards Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People would say, ”the key is not spending time but investing it.” So, it is safe it say that the Fellows invested their time during their three-day stay in Wichita.

The Fellows also looked at ways post-conflict and mediation is a practice of civic leadership, focused on renegotiating systems of conflict. On July 10, Terrie R. McCants facilitated a session on conflict and resolution. McCants is the program coordinator for the Certificate in Conflict Resolution and the co-coordinator for the Conflict Analysis and Trauma Studies minor at Kansas State University. Besides teaching, Terrie works as a mediator at the School of Family Studies and Human Services’ Family Center and is the mediation coordinator for Kansas State University. She is also the program director for Riley/Geary Counties Domestic Mediation Services, a community program devoted to providing quality, affordable mediation services for families and co-mediation mentorship for K-State students. In addition, McCants is a facilitation associate with K-State’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy. During her session with the Fellows, Terrie emphasized that to solve a conflict is good, but to transform a conflict is even better. She said conflict resolution allows individuals and groups to stop what is not going well, and conflict transformation helps to build something new that would work even better. Both steps are crucial for the survival and future success of the group.

Terrie McCants facilitating a session on conflict resolution and peace with the Fellows

Fellow Marcella Katjijova, from Namibia, accepted an interview with us to share her reflection on the conflict resolution session with McCants. Marcella is a professional therapist, passionate about addiction and counselling. Besides being a therapist, she is a loving single mother which she describes as being the best moments of her life. She sees herself as a holistic person, humble, selfless, and enjoys giving care and provide to people in her inner circle. Marcella shared a story during Terrie’s session that provided meaningful learning for the entire class. We are honored that she accepted to share this story with our readers. Here is our interview with Marcella Katjijova:

Marcella, would you share with our readers the story you told during your conflict resolution and peace studies session with Terrie McCants?

“I had moved from one region to another with work, well basically I had asked for a transfer because it was so far from my family and thus travelling was always so expensive. So when I arrived at the new office, I was so excited and the bonus factor was that I had finally moved back to my coastal town and I love the weather to bits (giggle).  The north was really hot. So as a government rule, which by the way I was not aware of at the time, the highest paid official was automatically selected to be the Administrative Head for that year renewable every year. This being said, I received a letter (…I think it was my second week there) appointing me as the Head of the office. Mind you this literally meant more work but no extra pay. I liked the challenge because I could then attend regional meetings and contribute about our ministry at the regional level and networking has always been something I love. However, my new position did not sit well with the majority of my colleagues. They seemed not to welcome the fact that I was the youngest in the group and within two weeks, I had already been appointed a management position, a.k.a their boss. Also, unlike the majority of my older colleagues, I was the only one who belong to the minority tribe in my country. Conflicts began to arise. I was discriminated against and my requests were barely if not executed. Despise my complaints to the permanent secretary of state, who was then our head manager, conflicts were not resolved. I spent more time dealing with frustrations than to be productive, and so I resigned to my position as a leader in that department.”

When that happened, what would you say was the origin of your reaction to resolve the conflict, using the terms “fight,” “fly,” “Freeze” that Mrs. McCants used to describe humans natural default to the limbic system to conflict solve?

“I think the right term to use will be “fly” because I opted to quit my job. I felt like it was the best decision for my peace, but also peace in the group. The fact that I could not work with my colleagues was also affecting the productivity of the department. I was literally the topic of discussion every day, and whenever I would call for staff meetings, only three out of 14 staff members would show up. I would get all sorts of responses of being young, or that my tribe did not fight for the country’s independence, but theirs. Often they will speak in their common tribal language so I do not understand, but I did. […sigh in a painful manner]. I felt so hurt and undermined at times that it consumed my interest in the job. Although I asked, I never received support from the permanent secretary who had more power of decision in cases like mine. I felt crushed and defeated, all my attempts to solve the issue were always misinterpreted and judged wrong. I felt the only real power of decision I could control was my resignation. So, yes, I reacted on the basis of my emotions.”

Marcella Katjijova from Namibia

What did Mrs. McCants suggested you could have done different to resolve and transform the conflict in your situation?

“Terrie asked me if I had attempted to address the “elephant in room” to address the issue of discrimination that everyone in the department seemed to be aware of but no one could be straightforward about it. Nevertheless, like I said earlier, I was discouraged by the fact that only a few people showed up to the several meetings I called.”

When suggested the alternative of “addressing the elephant in the room” to help solve the issue you had at hand, you commented some cultural barriers that would impede you using such a tactic. Could you tell our readers more about these cultural barriers?

“Yes, I had two barriers against me. The fact that I was the youngest in the department, and also the fact that I come from a minority tribe. These two elements did not help much in the case because historically, my tribe has always been an outcast that did not fight for the independence of Namibia. Additionally, my colleagues whom I had conflict with the most were from the majority tribe, praised for having fought for our country. They were entitled. On top of that, I was the “kid” in the group who cannot tell elders what to do. That is a cultural belief. So, yes, although I think from a therapist standpoint that calling the “elephant in room” is a helpful technique to conflict solve and transform, I hardly believe that it could have helped in my case. The environment was just unhealthy for my professional fulfillment and my core values of peace and love.”

What was your take on the “Somalian circle” as a technique to solve problems as a group? Would that be useful in your work as a therapist in your environment back home?

“Aaah! [Excited] the Somalian circle, I absolutely loved it. I loved the fact that the elephant in the room was being addressed without anyone being attacked. I feel like people who are bottled up will tend to share more in such a setting because they can never share on a one on one type of situation. I think people in the inner circle will feel relaxed to share their frustrations in a safe place because people in the outer circle can not make comments. I think the Somalian circle it is a powerful tool to use for conflict resolution in any group setting.”

Marcella’s story was an enlightenment for other Fellows present in the classroom. Most of them could relate as they all share the same African realities. From Marcella’s story, the Fellows could better dig into the knowledge brought to them by Terrie McCants. As she was unfolding the reality that Marcella could have faced and what could have been done differently, the Fellows could better comprehend Terrie’s saying that “you can do something even though the power of differentiation differs.

On the advocacy side, the highlight of this week is from Jeremias Tavares, who celebrated the 8th anniversary of his organization Laço Branco Cabo Verde (White Ribbon Cabo Verde) in July 10. In this occasion, Jeremias gathered the fellows to help spread the message of this civic initiative to the world.

So, the Fellows shared pictures on Facebook, wearing white ribbons, and holding signs with slogans of the Laço Branco Cabo Verde organization such as,” Ka bu ser kalker omi, seja um omi Lasu Branku” – Caboverdia Creoulo; “Não seja um homem qualquer, seja um homem Laço Branco” – Portuguese, and “Do not be any man, be a White Ribbon man” – English. Through his organization, the founder, Jeremias, works with boys and men in the promotion of gender equality. You can follow the updates of Laço Branco Cabo Verde, and see more pictures of 8th anniversary celebration here.

We are approaching the end of YALI 2017 at K-State, and we can not say thank you enough to everyone who participated in this journey with us. We are grateful for our campus and community partners, peer educators in the states and abroad, current and former elected officials, and friends who contributed towards making this year’s Civic Leadership Institute a success.

Stay connected with us on our social media pages, Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram for updates about YALI 2017 and more!

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